Depression, drugs, and hockey: When it seems like there's only one way out

I know that I'm a little late to the party, but here are some thoughts about professional hockey, depression, and pain killers in light of what's happened this offseason.

  • While depression isn't always the cause of suicide, it usually is. So there is a connection. You have to be in a pretty bleak place to seriously consider that as your only viable option out of a situation.
  • There's a huge difference between being depressed and having depression. Being depressed is a temporary state of maybe a couple of days. Having depression can last months, years, or even decades.
  • Some may think that taking your own life is selfish, and it is. But remember that when you're swallowed whole by your own internal darkness, and all you can see around you is futility and pain, well, you're not really in a position to think of others. It's extremely difficult to not be selfish when you're living in what's essentially survival mode. It's the emotional equivalent of being stranded in the remote mountains for weeks or months, injured and all alone, with little chance of being found.
  • The list of symptoms for depression is long and varied - most are the same between genders, but not all. Men are far more likely to ignore their problems until it's too late. Not everyone reacts to it the same, of course, and the symptoms can be easy to hide - particularly with people you don't know well. It can be triggered by events, or you can be genetically predisposed to it. There's absolutely nothing shameful about having depression. A great many people do.
  • Prescribed antidepressants only mask the symptoms, so that you can function normally. They don't deal with the causes of depression. For that, you need to speak to someone - preferably someone who has the education and experience to help you. If there's no one in your life that you're comfortable discussing it with first, then there are a few numbers you can call (in the US only; but if you're out of the US and are looking for help, you can start HERE and with a search engine).
  • If you're confronted with a friend or family member that needs help, just listen to them talk and ask questions. Don't give them advice, don't panic, and don't try to convince them of anything. Just listen and ask questions. All that you should offer is to help them find professional help. And if they won't, and you're feeling overwhelmed, then call a hotline yourself to see what your options are.
  • Being a professional athlete is not an easy job. Many see the money, and see that these guys are just playing a game, and they don't think about what's going on behind the scenes. It's an extremely stressful profession.
  • Being a hockey player specifically is a combination of working in heavy construction, being a traveling salesman who's on the road half the year, and a celebrity. Any one of those jobs is plenty stressful. But when you put all three together...well, it's just got to be insane.
  • Obviously, with as much physical pain as these guys put their bodies through, they're going to need some pain killers to help them heal. Athletic trainers often hand pills out like candy (I know my friend who is one does), and the athletes tend to automatically take what's given to them without much thought. It's very easy to start equating physical relief with emotional relief - which is how people become addicted to them.
  • Addictions can happen to anyone, and they can be either emotional and/or physical. Often, they end up being both. Again, there is nothing shameful about having an addiction. As the saying goes, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. But you can't make someone recover. As another saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink.
  • Trust is in short supply with athletes, since someone always wants to use them for their own ends. People want their money, or their fame, or their things. And, sometimes, they trust some people too much, like their agents - who may want to use them as well. But living in a world where being slightly paranoid is not only a way of life, but also something of an advantage, has also got to take a toll.
  • And then, what to do when it's all over? The NHL isn't as bad as the NFL, where they use players and then toss them to the curb without a thought when they're broken and of no use to teams anymore, but it's not exactly finishing school, either. Transitioning from a life where everything was taken care of for you to a life where you've got to figure everything all out for yourself for the first time I'm sure is frightening as well as intimidating. Especially when many NHLers (probably) only have a high school diploma.
  • Yes, athletes make a lot of money during the course of their careers, but not everyone's careful with their finances, or even plans for the future. Imagine having to start life completely over at 35 years old with no education, no marketable career skills, living a lifestyle that you can no longer afford, with a battered body of a 50-year-old due to wear and tear and various injuries, and having to support a family - or possibly two, if they're paying child support and alimony from a previous marriage. There are only so many TV and coaching jobs to go around, after all.
  • Concussions are not the only cause of depression. If your family has a history of depression, then the chances of you having to deal with it yourself at some point skyrocket. On average, over 6% of the adult population of America has dealt with depression in the past 12 months. That's about 18 million people in the US alone, most of which were not due to concussions. Concussions tend to cause depression, but it may also be that someone is predisposed to depression. Of course, depression doesn't only affect adults, either....

So, please get help if you know you need it. It doesn't have to be public, and it doesn't have to be through what you might consider the regular channels. Just talk to someone; anyone. Even if you're feeling overwhelmed and hopeless about everything, people really do still care - and you're no burden to anyone, I promise.

You're important to us, and we don't want to miss you, too.

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